Russia has sent paratroopers to Belarus in a show of support for its ally amid tensions over an influx of migrants at the border with Poland.
The Russian Defence Ministry said that as part of joint war games Russian troops parachuted from Il-76 transport planes in Belarus’s Grodno region, which borders Poland.
It said the paratroopers reboarded the transport planes and flew back to Russia after the exercise.
The Belarusian military said the exercise involving a battalion of Russian paratroopers was intended to test the readiness of the allies’ rapid response forces due to an “increase of military activities near the Belarusian border”.
It said that as part of the drills, which will also involved Belarusian air defence assets, helicopter gunships and other forces, troops practised targeting enemy scouts and illegal armed formations, along with other tasks.
Earlier this week, Moscow sent its nuclear-capable strategic bombers on patrol missions over Belarus for two days.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that the flights came in response to a massive build-up on the Polish-Belarusian border.
Russia has strongly supported Belarus amid a tense stand-off this week as thousands of migrants and refugees, most from the Middle East, gathered on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland in the hope of crossing into western Europe.
The European Union has accused Belarus’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, of encouraging illegal border crossings as a “hybrid attack” to retaliate against EU sanctions on his government for its crackdown on domestic protests after his disputed 2020 re-election.
Belarus denies the allegations but says it will no longer stop refugees and migrants from trying to enter the EU.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry accused Poland on Thursday of an “unprecedented” military build-up on the border, saying migration control did not warrant the concentration of 15,000 troops backed by tanks, air defence assets and other weapons.
“I’d like to warn hotheads not to overestimate their capabilities,” defence minister Viktor Khrenin said on Friday. “Language of ultimatums, threats and blackmail is not acceptable. Belarus armed forces are ready to respond harshly to any attacks.”
Russia and Belarus have a union agreement envisaging close political and military ties.
Mr Lukashenko has stressed the need to boost military co-operation in the face of what he has described as aggressive actions by Nato allies.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Civil Aviation Authority is halting airline ticket sales to Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni citizens wanting to travel to Belarus.
EU leaders have put increasing pressure on airlines to stop taking people from the Middle East to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Thousands of asylum-seekers have crossed illegally into EU member nations Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since the summer, though many thousands have also been kept from entering or pushed back.
Belarusian airline Belavia said it also would not transport citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen on its Istanbul-Minsk flights.